Middle East

Israel frees jailed Palestinian journalist

Majd Kayyal remains under house arrest, and could face a maximum four-year prison term for visiting "an enemy state".

Last updated: 18 Apr 2014 09:36
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Kayyal was arrested on Saturday at the Allenby bridge on his way back from Lebanon [AP]

Jerusalem — A Palestinian citizen of Israel who was detained last week for traveling to Lebanon has been released from jail, but remains under house arrest and could face prison time for visiting "an enemy state".

Majd Kayyal, a journalist and activist from the northern city of Haifa, was arrested on Saturday at the Allenby bridge while returning from Beirut. He was invited there to attend a conference marking the 40th anniversary of Lebanese newspaper, As-Safir.

Kayyal works as an online editor for Adalah, a legal centre for Palestinian rights in Israel.

He was held incommunicado in a windowless cell for several days, and denied access to lawyers until Wednesday. A gag order barred the Israeli media from discussing the case until Thursday, when it was lifted. Kayyal was released to house arrest later that evening.

He is also banned from traveling abroad for one month, and from using the internet or contacting anyone outside of Israel.

In an interview with Al Jazeera on Friday, Kayyal said his interrogators from Israel’s Shin Bet security service asked repeatedly about his contacts with "a terrorist organisation", a likely reference to Lebanese group Hezbollah.

Kayyal denied the charge, and his lawyers said a polygraph exam showed he was being truthful.

"It's clear that I went to Beirut: I didn't try to disappear, didn’t hide anything," Kayyal told Al Jazeera. "I wrote about it on Facebook, I was published in As-Safir."

This charge was made in order to put pressure on him, to punish him, and to send a message to other Palestinian youth not to try this.

- Sawsan Zaher, lawyer

A Shin Bet spokesperson did not respond to Al Jazeera's requests for comment. The agency told the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz that Kayyal traveled with documents issued by the Palestinian Authority, and that he admitted knowing that visiting Lebanon was a crime.

Kayyal said the state will probably drop the more serious charge of contacting a foreign agent, which carries a maximum 15-year prison sentence. He still could face indictment for visiting "an enemy state", a crime that carries a maximum of four years in prison.

"This charge was made in order to put pressure on him, to punish him," said Sawsan Zaher, one of the Adalah lawyers representing Kayyal, "and to send a message to other Palestinian youth not to try this."

Israelis are forbidden from visiting Lebanon and several other countries under emergency regulations dating back to 1948. Citizens can apply for permits to visit, but the interior ministry rarely grants them to Palestinians, except in rare humanitarian cases.

Kayyal and Zaher said the case highlights a double standard: Jewish Israeli journalists have traveled to Lebanon and Syria to report in recent years, and faced little more than brief questioning by Shin Bet officials upon their return.

Palestinians make up approximately 20 percent of the Israeli population, numbering about 1.7 million.

"They say we are citizens, but in fact Israel sees us as enemies," Kayyal said. "Any relations in this space, in the Arab world, they see them as a crime… but this is our historic and cultural space, you cannot take us out of it."


Al Jazeera
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